Saturday, October 30, 2021

Reformation Day 2021

Reformation 2021 Be Still and Know that I Am God
Psalm 46

1God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
2Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the heart of the sea;
3Though its waters roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah

4There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God,
The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High.
5God is in the midst of her, she shall not be shaken;
God shall help her, just at the turning of the morning.
6The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved;
He uttered His voice, the earth melted.

7The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

8Come, behold the works of the Lord,
Who has made desolations in the earth.
9He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariot in the fire.

10Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!

11The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

New King James Version (NKJV®) Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson.


I'm blogging late because I've been wondering how on earth I can write or say anything about Reformation Day and the church's ongoing reformation through and beyond close to two years of COVID-19. We've got masks and we have vaccines; infections have been declining as we gradually ease out from the pandemic, yet its fallout surrounds and overwhelms us.

Along with the day of Pentecost, Reformation is a major "wear red" festival. The church uses red for celebrations of the Holy Spirit and for commemorations of prophets, martyrs, and renewers of the church like Martin Luther, John XXIII, Jonathan Edwards, Ulrich Zwingli, Oscar Romero… for ordinations! During October 2017 we celebrated Reformation 500; we continue in a church that's still reforming and now includes the Roman Catholic branch of Christianity.

Aside from readings the Revised Common Lectionary specifies for Reformation, if we study scripture and talk about, when we write about the prolific pouring out of God's transforming Spirit of creation, re-creation, new creation, we'd start at the beginning of Genesis and wouldn't be finished by the end of Revelation because dreams, visions, hopes, newness, and resurrection keep on keeping' on and will keep on until Jesus returns.

The Church Has Left the Building…

…was a common social media update during spring 2020. The church always leaves the brick and mortar, steel and glass gathering place after worship and those other meetings that prepare us for ministry in the world outside the building. We always aspire to continue the lives of service Word and Sacrament model for us. However, for the past eighteen months we've stayed outside the building most of the time, so we've been experimenting with new ways of being church.

Fortunately(?) this pandemic has happened during a time digital connections are easy to come by, when almost everyone has a minimal online presence beyond email. Zoom and YouTube worship, committee meetings, and bible studies have become commonplace through the electronic amazement of the internet.

My sudden anxiety over what to blog was laughable. Many of us have been reading books and articles about church identity, "growth," member retention, program possibilities, and multicultural authenticity almost forever; since COVID more have appeared, not a single one claiming to have a solution. So what can I do? Remind myself. Remind my readers. Trust the Spirit of Reformation that's the Spirit of Resurrection.

Spirit of Reformation

Martin Luther insisted worship and hymn-singing in the vernacular (the common, ordinary, speech of regular people) was a mark of the true church. We can present Christianity with vocabulary and with symbols everyday people understand. We also can be a vernacular church that speaks the cultural language of the people.

We are Jesus' presence in the world. Meet people where they are as Jesus did. Be love. Be mercy. Show grace. Shower kindness. Learn people's spoken and cultural languages / practice translating your spoken and read language into theirs. Explain your ethnic background! Make yourself at home in their homes—if not at their street address, in other ways. Food is a wonderful, exciting, opportunity for connection and understanding! Take risks! Make mistakes!

Defy empire. Live locally. Moderate your consumption. Remember! God has been to the future. God waits for us there.

In his "Mighty Fortress" hymn paraphrase of Psalm 46, Martin Luther announced:

That Word above all earthly powers
no thanks to them abideth
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
through him who with us sideth.

Spirit is a-moving all over the land!

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Pentecost 22B

Jeremiah 31:1-14

1"At that time," says the Lord, "I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people."

2Thus says the Lord: "The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest."
3The Lord appeared to me from long ago: "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
4"Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall take up your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
5"Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit.
6For there shall be a day when sentinels will call in the hill country of Ephraim: 'Come, let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.'"

7For thus says the Lord: "Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, 'Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel.'
8"See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here.
9"With weeping they shall come, and with consolations. I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn."

10Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, "He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock."
11For the Lord has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.
12"They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd;their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again.

13Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry.I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
14I will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty," says the Lord.


Hello God,

This reading springs to life in this time of COVID, this time of loss, these wilderness weeks and months of wondering what's next. Jeremiah's words help us hope during literal exile from much of what we knew and assumed would continue. God, we are so thankful for all that's brought us together. Where would we be without essential medical and municipal workers? Where would we still be without masks and vaccines? Help us hold unto your promises and trust in the grace-filled future you're preparing for us.

In the name of Jesus,

© Leah Chang

Biblical Prophets…

…include the former prophets Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, the writing prophets or latter prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel plus the Book of the Twelve or the Minor Prophets that are minor in length but not minor in content. Scripture distinguishes between prophet or nabi, who speaks truth to power, lining out alternatives (the reigning monarch most characteristically being that power), and seer or roeh, who peers into the future and predicts what will happen. Later in the history of Israel the roles became somewhat conflated.

Continuing the tradition of the pentateuch or first five books of the Hebrew Bible, prophets bring an authoritative Word of the Lord; pentateuch and prophets emphasize God's covenanting with all creation as they reveal an active, intervening, trustworthy God.


Jeremiah was a priest from the Benjaminite tradition; the Apostle Saul/Paul of Tarsus also came from the tribe of Benjamin. Although he may have lived in a mostly oral tradition that transmitted texts by talking, listening, hearing, and sharing again, Jeremiah probably had some written-down texts in his possession, and he had his own scribe. As he responds to "Is there a Word from the Lord," Jeremiah is The Classic Prophet. He also is within the tradition of Deuteronomy with its care for the marginalized, the neighbor, the stranger, the immigrant, the sojourner. Jeremiah would have known much if not all of Deuteronomy that influenced him during his forty year long ministry. In fact, the book of Jeremiah probably got edited by the same post-[Babylon] exilic committee that compiled the Pentateuch and the Former Prophets.

Jeremiah ministered before and during the Babylonian exile. In the scripture selection for today, the prophet speaks hope to people who have experienced extreme social, cultural, and religious dislocation. Today's lection brings assurance of God's redemptive faithfulness that will bring healing and joy to land and people.

Pentecost 22; COVID-19

Today's reading comes out of chapters 30 to 33 that collectively sometimes are called the Book of Consolation or Comfort and contrast with much of the rest of the Jeremiah.

For this Sunday, the Lectionary specifies only verses 7 through 9 of chapter 31 that later on announces God's New Covenant; those three verses come out of a longer passage appointed for Easter Day Year A (Jeremiah 31:1-6) and every year for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (Jeremiah 31:7-14). Through Jeremiah, God promises homecoming, restoration, and joy! Scriptural proclamations like this will continue to be huge in months – and probably years – ahead as world, church, and individuals recover and rebuild in the wake of the unprecedented devastation the worldwide pandemic has caused.

Wilderness for Jeremiah and his original audience could have meant the Exodus desert that formed God's people Israel; it could have been the current Babylon exile, or maybe both. COVID-19 has meant a degree of wilderness for absolutely everyone, even those who haven't lost loved ones, income, or their way of life because of the pandemic.

God restores and redeems the people and the land who depend on each other. God brings us home. Yet God also calls us to transform wherever we are into home, into a safe, welcoming, fruitful place. The way our scriptures are arranged, a couple of chapters earlier Jeremiah counsels (maybe that's consoles?) the captives in Babylon with the very original Bloom Where You're Planted:

Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and enjoy their bounty. Seek the wellbeing of wherever you are, even though it's unexpected exile from the familiar and the loved, because if the place where you are is healthy and well, you and your family will thrive and be whole. 29:4-7

The hope-filled witness of scripture never quits reassuring us! To quote Pastor James Howell, "God just can't stop making life happen."

Grace in the wilderness and everlasting love!

Friday, October 15, 2021

Pentecost 21B

Hebrews 5:1-10

1Every high priest is taken from the people and put in charge of things that relate to God for their sake, in order to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2The high priest is able to deal gently with the ignorant and those who are misled since he himself is prone to weakness. 3Because of his weakness, he must offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as for the people. 4No one takes this honor for themselves but takes it only when they are called by God, just like Aaron.

5In the same way Christ also didn't promote himself to become high priest. Instead, it was the one who said to him,

"You are my Son.
Today I have become your Father,"

6as he also says in another place,

"You are a priest forever,
according to the order of Melchizedek."
[Genesis 14:18; Hebrews 5:6; Psalm 110:4]

7During his days on earth, Christ offered prayers and requests with loud cries and tears as his sacrifices to the one who was able to save him from death. He was heard because of his godly devotion. 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. 9After he had been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for everyone who obeys him. 10He was appointed by God to be a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Common English Bible (CEB) Copyright 2011 by Common English Bible


As I mentioned two weeks ago, scholars believe this book addressed to Jewish Christians either nearby or in widely scattered diaspora originally was a sermon intended to be proclaimed aloud, and not a round-robin letter in the traditions of the apostle Paul and others who wrote the New Testament epistles. Hebrews clearly knows Jesus Christ as fully human and fully divine; Hebrews describes Jesus as continuation and fulfillment of God's self-revealing presence and action throughout all ages.

The Hebrew bible is full of "types" or "precursors" of Christ, meaning persons, objects, or events that anticipate being fully developed in Jesus. As today's second lection describes Jesus' as priest or mediator between earth and heaven, it refers to Melchizedek, someone we first hear about in Genesis:

14:18Now Melchizedek the king of Salem and the priest of God Most High had brought bread and wine, 19and he blessed Abram,

"Bless Abram by God Most High, creator [or possessor] of heaven and earth;
20bless God Most High, who gave you the victory over your enemies."

Abram gave Melchizedek one-tenth of everything.

Common English Bible (CEB)

also in Psalm 110:4
The Lord has sworn a solemn pledge and won't change his mind:
"You are a priest forever in line with Melchizedek."

Today's Reading

The book of Hebrews contains many references to Old Testament practices and ritualized observances. Chapter 7 goes into (a whole lot of) detail about Melchizedek, about Jesus as a type of successor to Melchizedek, and about high priests in general. Although it's dense reading, it's also clear, even in the King James Version.

Hebrews 5:1 tells us a high priest comes from the people, and so he is one of us, yet verse 4 explains the call comes from God, and isn't self-appointed. Ancient near eastern priests offered sacrifices to bridge the distance between humanity and divinity and theoretically to appease the gods humans imagined must be angry. Like everyone else, traditional high priests were less than perfect, so their ceremonial offerings included themselves along with the everyone else. High priests represented the people to God and they represented God to the people; you may have read some of the extensive instructions in Leviticus.

Hebrews' unknown author then mentions Moses' brother Aaron, a high priest from the tribe of Levi. Levites were an entire tribe of priests and had no inheritance of land when Joshua portioned out plots of the Land of Promise—"But Moses gave no legacy to the tribe of Levi. The Lord God of Israel is their legacy, exactly as he promised them." [Joshua 13:33] We know Jesus as sovereign/king, prophet, and priest, yet Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. Hebrews 7:3 says Melchizedek is without genealogy; like Jesus, he wasn't from the hereditary priestly Levites. In addition, Melchizedek had no other apparent inheritance. More than one scripture commentary I read cited Melchizedek as an example of God choosing persons without standard credentials, of God acting outside of ordinary institutional structures: on the margins rather than in the center.

Melech means King—King Melchizedek is doubly king! Zedek / zedekah or tzedek / tzedekah is "righteous." Salem can be both a place-name location and refer to shalom, the peace that's completion, integrity, reconciliation of all creation. You probably noticed Melchizedek brought "bread and wine," gifts of creation?! Unlike conventional sacrificial offerings of newly harvested raw grain or grape, these had been prepared the same way as our sacramental bread and wine, symbolizing meaningful work and nourishment for the community:
Behind the bread is the flour;
behind the flour is the mill;
behind the mill is the rain and the sun and the Maker's will.
Behind the bread and the rain and the sun is the Maker's will.
The vintner, the potter…

And Abram, our ancestor in redemptive faith (who later on becomes "Abraham") gave Melchizedek a tithe of everything he had!

Through unexpected people and circumstances, Melchizedek brought righteousness and shalom. Throughout generations of unexpected people (check out especially Matthew's genealogy) and circumstances, Jesus brought righteousness and shalom.

Melchizedek and Jesus

Verse 6 names Jesus as high priest forever. Unlike all those conventional priests, though jesus died, he reigns forever because of his resurrection. The text says, "forever after the manner of Melchizedek," who shared many characteristics with his perfect successor, Jesus.

Traditional priests make animal, grain, and harvest sacrifices to their gods; verse 7 says "Christ offered prayers and requests with loud cries and tears as his sacrifices to the one who was able to save him from death." It's striking that verse 8 says Jesus learned obedience in the same way we need to pray about, work through, and take risks related to what's next in our journeys.

We sometimes hear "Jesus' sacrifice on the cross," misinterpreted as an event and action God required. The God of love, mercy, and righteousness never would require or condone violence or destruction. Jesus' trial, conviction, and crucifixion happened because of human violence and injustice, not because of God's demands. Jesus' death on the cross, his resurrection, and ascension became the source of creation's redemption because of God's love, mercy, and justice.

Because God in Christ finished all the work of salvation, praise and thanksgiving are the only sacrifices we need to offer God. Christians and most humans work to improve society and planet earth in general, but we do our best to love others, to offer mercy and compassion, and to use our gifts in service to God and creation in thankful response to God's grace and salvation, not in order to earn salvation.

Hebrews 5:11, the next verse after today's reading says, "We have a lot to say about this topic, and it's difficult to explain, because you have been lazy and you haven't been listening." Did I mention Hebrews originated as a sermon series?

Friday, October 08, 2021

Pentecost 20B

This Week in the RCL

For the responsive psalm this week, the Revised Common Lectionary appoints only verses 12-17—less than half of Psalm 90. Though there's no reason not to read or chant all seventeen verses during worship, this is one of those times I wonder why they didn't suggest the entire psalm; after all, it's short and doesn't include anything that would require serious explanation. Because it's very familiar and because Isaac Watts' famous hymn paraphrase "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" closely follows the psalm text, instead of writing about one of Sunday's scriptures I'm blogging the late Pastor Eugene Peterson's particularly delightful translation in The Message followed by the hymn.

Psalm 90

1God, it seems you've been our home forever;
   long before the mountains were born,
2Long before you brought earth itself to birth,
   from "once upon a time" to "kingdom come"—you are God.

3So don't return us to mud, saying,
   "Back to where you came from!"
4Patience! You've got all the time in the world—
whether a thousand years or a day, it's all the same to you.

5Are we no more to you than a wispy dream,
   no more than a blade of grass
6That springs up gloriously with the rising sun
   and is cut down without a second thought?

7Your anger is far and away too much for us;
   we're at the end of our rope.
8You keep track of all our sins; every misdeed
   since we were children is entered in your books.

9All we can remember is that frown on your face.
   Is that all we're ever going to get?
10We live for seventy years or so
   (with luck we might make it to eighty),
And what do we have to show for it? Trouble.
   Toil and trouble and a marker in the graveyard.
11Who can make sense of such rage,
   such anger against the very ones who fear you?
12Oh! Teach us to live well!
   Teach us to live wisely and well!

13Come back, God—how long do we have to wait?—
   and treat your servants with kindness for a change.

14Surprise us with love at daybreak;
   then we'll skip and dance all the day long.
15Make up for the bad times with some good times;
   we've seen enough evil to last a lifetime.
16Let your servants see what you're best at—
   the ways you rule and bless your children.
17And let the loveliness of our Lord, our God, rest on us,
   confirming the work that we do.
   Oh, yes. Affirm the work that we do!

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson

Our God, Our Help in Ages Past
Author: Isaac Watts, 1719; Tune: St. Anne. Published in 1152 hymnals, so far!

Hymnary dot org entry

1 O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home.

2 Under the shadow of your throne
your saints have dwelt secure.
Sufficient is your arm alone,
and our defense is sure.

3 Before the hills in order stood,
or earth received its frame,
from everlasting you are God,
to endless years the same.

4 A thousand ages in your sight
are like an evening gone,
short as the watch that ends the night
before the rising sun.

5 Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
soon bears us all away.
We fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.

6 O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
still be our guard while troubles last,
and our eternal home.

Saturday, October 02, 2021

Pentecost 19B

Hebrews 1:1-4; [2:5-12]

1Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2but in these last days God has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.

When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

(Scroll down to the end of this post for the rest of the appointed reading.)


Compassionate God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray,
and to give more than we desire or deserve;
pour upon us the abundance of your mercy,
forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid,
and giving us those things
for which our prayer dares not ask;
through Jesus Christ
who is alive with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

© Bosco Peters / Liturgy


Titled in bibles as "The Epistle to the Hebrews," scholars believe this book addressed to Jewish Christians either nearby or in widely scattered diaspora originally was a sermon intended to be proclaimed aloud, and not a letter in the traditions of the apostle Paul and others. The person who wrote it remains unknown; no one has been able to make a reasonable educated or random guess.

This Sunday begins seven weeks of Hebrews as the second reading—but it's not that simple. Because the date of Easter varies, the Day of Pentecost that's the fiftieth day of Easter changes each year. That results in the portion of Ordinary Time when we count Sundays after Pentecost being shorter or longer depending on when Easter occurs. When Easter is early in Mark's lectionary year B (as it was last spring) we'll hear from Hebrews all seven Sundays prior to Reign of Christ, the final Sunday of the Christian year. If Easter happens late, we'll hear only three or four readings from Hebrews.

Although I won't blog about the gospel reading this week because Mark 10:2-16 has enough content and asks enough questions for a long sermon series or a month of daily studies and I didn't want to approach it in a few paragraphs, I also won't write about Hebrews seven weeks in a row because the book is dense and complex and because I'm only marginally familiar with it. However, this passage is the second reading on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in all three lectionary years, and despite not having memorized nearly enough scripture, I can recite the first four verses from memory. I've headed this blog with my interpretation of verses 1 through 2b; the original design was a large banner we hung in the sanctuary and I almost definitely have a picture of the full color original somewhere, but didn't look for it… yet.

Hebrews 1:1-4

Throughout its thirteen chapters, Hebrews is extremely theological! With countless references to Old Testament history and ceremonial observances, it articulates Jesus' position as continuation and fulfillment of God's revelatory presence and action. The preexistent Christ is God's creative and sustaining Word who also redeemed creation. Does that sound trinitarian—or does that sound Trinitarian? The book's poetic opening exquisitely sums up Jesus' essence, role, purpose, and persona; the entire letter consistently reminds us Jesus Christ is both fully divine and fully human, with refrains of "like God" and "like us."

Ministries of healing, teaching, forgiveness, feeding, and sheltering in Jesus' name at his command occupied the early church. Telling Jesus' story and writing it down, baptizing, and celebrating the Lord's Supper happened from the start, but scrolls later canonized as scripture along with doctrine about Jesus the Christ developed slowly and gradually. That's a quick intro into saying Hebrew's explicit insistence on both "natures" of Jesus Christ looks forward to the Council of Chalcedon that in the year 451 described Jesus "…in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation…" Most denominations and church bodies affirm the very short Definition of Chalcedon that's so worth the two or three minutes it takes to read.

Jesus the Word

From the beginning, God has spoken and acted on creation's behalf, often through human agents or prophets. Jesus the Son is God's definitive Word, so it's no surprise the lectionary appoints this passage for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day when our songs celebrate "Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing" – "veiled in flesh, the godhead see – hail the incarnate deity" – "Jesus, our Emmanuel" (Emmanuel means God-with-us.) What are your favorite Nativity songs and carols?

Hebrews tells us Jesus is human like us, Jesus is divine like God, yet Jesus has done and continues to do for us what we cannot accomplish for ourselves. In this book you'll notice familiar phrases you knew were in the bible but may not have known where, including Jesus as "author and finisher of our faith" in 12:2.

When the very young John Calvin wondered whether to begin his forthcoming systematic theology with humanity or with divinity, he finally decided it made no difference because his Institutes of the Christian Religion would travel the same (doctrinal and theological) places and come out in the same place. As we ponder post-COVID ministries, we often discuss how God created humans in the Divine image (imago dei) and calls us to be holy as God is holy, to be Jesus' crucified and risen presence bringing justice, love, and mercy to earth. Yet we are not God; we are not Jesus.

• Here's the rest of this week's reading if you want to read it without opening a bible or searching online.

Hebrews 2:5-12

5Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. 6But someone has testified somewhere,

"What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
or or the son of man, that you care for him?

7"You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned them with glory and honor,

8 "subjecting all things under their feet."

Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, 9but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12saying,

"I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters,
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you."